How do you decide what is a good use of your time? Over the weekend I attended a special event where a friend of mine shared his life’s work of 24 years. It was a musical entitled Son of Man.
Son of Man is a powerful oratorio on the life of Jesus Christ. It is one of those seminal efforts that will change the world for many who see, hear and experience it.
As I watched I asked myself, “Why would someone spend a lifetime on such a project?” The word mission came to mind. Such a mission in personal excellence may be a vocation, odyssey or ministry. Victor Frankl tells us that missions are something we detect rather than invent. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life…therein he cannot be replaced nor can his life be repeated. Thus everyone’s task is as unique as is his special opportunity to implement it.
What is your mission to do that no one else can? What does life expect of you? Life is not responsible to you. You are the responsible party to life. A mission usually takes its form in the way of a statement. When based on truth and correct principles it informs and empowers your future. It becomes an expression of your center, or as Stephen R. Covey suggests, it can be the source of your security, guidance, wisdom and power. It is your vision and what you value. In short, it is your personal constitution.
Your mission is what you can then use as a guide to order, sequence and measure everything else in your life and how you spend your time. As we sat with my 90-year-old mother yesterday we could detect at least a portion of her life’s mission to “positively and persistently overcome.” From her early years being orphaned as a child to graduating from college recently at age 90, I think those words certainly capture a bit of her mission statement.
In crafting a personal constitution or mission statement of your own, you may want to take a cue from Covey. He suggests that our center of life is where we discover our vision and values—and from there we start to draw our map of how we see the world. Our center may be what we look forward to or what drives our thoughts, words and deeds. At our center we find our special excellence. Our centers help us detect the gifts, talents and virtues that give us self-esteem, purpose and happiness.
How about you? What is your center? Centers are what we value most. They give us identity, self-esteem, directional life mapping, perspective, balance, energy, empowerment and the capacity and means to go beyond enduring to overcome. I like the centers that Covey suggests as they seem to cover most, if not all:
- Centered on Self
When I first encountered this list, my thought was “I am many of these centers.” I was ready to mentally boast how many centers I had acquired or balanced in my life! Then as I read on, I noted it was not about leading with or balancing many centers, but about leading and becoming “PRINCIPLE-CENTERED.”
Here is the tricky part, however: our center is not our primary focus, instead it is the principles of those centers that inform and engage our focus. Our center helps us to create the end that we desire. To reach our desired end we focus on the principles that inform, guide and lead us to that end. Think back to my recently graduated mother. She needed to decide what would be her educational focus. While finishing each necessary class was the “end,” the principles she used as her center were focused thoughts, study, time use, budget, learning and use of technology. These principles harmonized to provide success for her in class and ultimately a degree.
When we are principle-centered we avoid the whims of selfishness or poor sequencing of priorities. We bring our centers of value into a harmony of purpose and unity. We are then in a position to act and not to be acted upon by people, circumstances or things because we know who we are and we know our purpose. We make inspired and informed choices. Principles provide predictability and validate the pure motives of a servant leader. I try to always ask myself two questions when I have conflicting desires or requests of my time by people, things or commitments. First, what principles govern these choices. Second, some principles are higher than others in terms of governing importance. Think of the Declaration of Independence—Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. You have to be alive to make choices, and principled choices produce happiness. Principles that are out of sequence may take longer to produce the results you desire. Think of the principles of mathematics or science that teach us the order of steps to determine correct answers.
How to begin? Ask yourself then a few trusted friends for three adjectives to describe you. These will help you detect your virtues, gifts and excellence. Next, identify what your core values are. What are your centers (see some of those mentioned above) that you value most? What are your primary roles in life? Another hint: as you consider and craft your statement, remember that there is an aspirational quality to it. Stating that you value certain characteristics or principles does not mean that you see yourself as having perfected them.
Linda and I created and embraced a family statement to help us stay centered on the right things: “Formans transcend self through reliance on God and serving others.” We identified key principles of courage, love, honesty, respect, kindness, justice, mercy, loyalty, dependability, chastity, self-reliance and moderation—all principles that we have aspired to as we’ve grown collectively and individually.
As another example, here is my personal statement: “To liberate the captive by creating servant leaders.” And here is one John Adams Academy chose: “Restoring America’s Heritage by developing servant leaders.”
Your personal constitution or mission should be unique to you, the centers and principles that order your life. You will then be better prepared and informed to execute your mission.